India

TS Wakf Board asks caretakers to provide free burial space; public believe his letter is an eyewash

Hyderabad: Telangana State Wakf Board Chairman Mohammed Saleem, its members and the administration obviously do not see eye to eye on the free burial of poor Muslims.  There are hundreds of graveyards in Hyderabad but the poor Muslims have shell down heavy amounts running into thousands of rupees to get the final resting place.

While, Saleem, especially during the current coronavirus pandemic has asked the caretakers and the mutawallis of the cemeteries to be kind towards the relatives of the dead in charging fee for graveyard space. But it seems none of them are listening.

Given the conflict in what Saleem has been saying what the caretakers of the graveyards are doing, a petition was filed seeking the correct information over the matter.

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Against this background the board that oversees the upkeep of endowments, including graveyards, issued a circular last month in which it warned mutawallis of filing criminal cases against them if they charge high amounts for burials or sell graveyard space. The circular was issued only after the State Information Commission questioned the board for demonstrating any evidence in this matter.

In the past, Saleem had said that several people had informed him that the management of graveyards had been charging hefty mounts for providing kin of the deceased space. Amid much brouhaha, a helpline, manned by board staff was also announced. But again, no order or board resolution in writing was produced.

According to media reports, the circular which was issued on 28th June states, “It has come to the notice of this office that some mutawallis and managing committees are not allotting the space in Muslim graveyards for burial purpose of the dead bodies and collecting huge amounts from the poor Muslims. The matter has been examined by the Hon’ble Chairman who passed orders to issue instructions to all the mutawallis and managing committees for free burial in graveyards in all Telangana Districts.”

Warning mutawallis and managing committees of consequences, the circular added, “All the mutawallis and President/Secretary of managing committees are hereby directed to allot the place in graveyards free of cost failing which criminal action will be taken against the responsible persons.”

It was previously carried in these columns that while dealing with a petition filed by Right to Information activist Kareem Ansari, State Information Commissioner Mohammad Ameer, in an order, hauled up the State Wakf Board as the prima facie impression he got was of no written order existing. He also criticised the board for not operating in a streamlined manner.

A strange aspect of the whole affair is that it appears that the issue was not placed in the agenda of any board meeting where it could be debated. Another aspect is that the representation of the mutawalli community in the board is quite strong. Some of the mutawallis of graveyards are of the opinion that there exists a provision which allows mutawallis and takiyadaars of graveyards to derive income from graves.

The larger question which begs an answer is whether the board, under the stewardship of Saleem, will be able to implement the circular in letter and spirit as it was issued in an uncharacteristic hush-hush manner. Also hard to ignore is the board asking the State Information Commission to close the case which gives the impression that it was done merely to check an item off the list and avoid dragging the matter.

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